FYI

This site was moved here for archiving.  The process lost the names of some of the authors of the posts.  I’m happy to fix that if anyone cares to remind me about who did what.

Mostly, this site lost momentum because it is hard to read lots and write a coherent review while living a full life….  So, if anyone cares to commit to a site resurrection, let’s talk.  Otherwise, this is here so the record of it lasts.  I’ll try to clean up the import mess as I have time/desire.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

Matt Gardenghi

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

While traveling recently, my wife brought along the final installment of the Harry Potter series. Having read all of the books (entirely as audio books) and watched the movies, I finally am ready to write a little bit about them. For a long time, I have heard Christians rail on the stories as being anti-God, demonic etc…. I have heard Christians proclaim that the books can be used to teach people about God (like others have done with the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars). I say they are both wrong.

Before I make comments on the series generally, I’d like to give a few observations about this specific book. For starters, Rowling did an excellent job of wrapping up the series and pulling together threads from the last few books. It would appear that the last half of the series had a much more coherent plot structure than the first couple of books. The ending was satisfying and conclusive. There were no loose ends hanging around that opened the door for a sequel.

On the flip side, there was more profanity in this book than the rest of the series combined. Rowling is no longer writing for children (her original audience is either in college or graduated now). This book has plenty of death and violence but that would fit with the nature of war. Overall, I enjoyed the conclusion to this series.

Some Christians have argued against the use of magic. I hope they also boycott the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia for the sake of consistency. I don’t really understand that point of view and I probably only have one objection on that front. The Harry Potter books present magic in the hands of normal real-life children unlike other fantasy that sets the magical powers in a far flung world. There is a definite blurring of the edges between reality and fantasy in these books. I have been in the rooms of children and seen the Harry Potter craze; the materials encourage the children to practice “good” magic. Whatever. If children are believing this to be real, then there are other issues.

If I were to object to these books, it is because they encourage children to disobey, use profanity, and encourage general behaviors inconsistent with Christian character (think: revenge, anger, hate, theft, lying etc…). I will probably use them as training tools some day to teach my children about handling objectionable elements. But that’s me and I’ve got time before that becomes an issue so who knows? I could change my mind by then. 🙂 And those who try to use this to teach Christian values? Get your head screwed on straight. There is nothing Christian about these books. As there is nothing Christian about The Lord of the Rings.

One other negative. Rowling can’t write. Sorry. No offense meant, but she can’t. She has created excellent characters, a great plot line and an enjoyable “universe,” but that doesn’t mean she can write. Her books tend to drag along for large sections. In this book, Harry, Hermione, and Ron all sit around in a tent for months. Literally. Then occasionally, dumb luck would wander in and hand them clues to follow. After that, it was back to sitting around for weeks on end. (This goes on for chapters.) Her plots drag as if she were filling in words to make a bigger book that sells for a higher price. My wife and I were talking about Rowling and we’re not certain if she can transition to anything else. It will be interesting to see if she is successful at any new writing ventures.

Overall, I enjoyed the plot lines and would certainly recommend them to teenagers and adults. The creativeness of the stories make them worth reading. Rowling is certainly creative if she is anything. Still, there are plenty of reasons to object to the material included in these books. A parent should read them alongside their children if they choose to allow their kids to read them at all.

Your thoughts? Care to write a dissenting review?

Some earlier thoughts by Tim Taylor:
Magic and Harry Potter/
Harry Potter Continued/
Realism in Harry Potter/
Conclusion of Harry Potter Series/

The Right Way to Do Wrong by Harry Houdini


The Right Way to Do Wrong

Yeah, that Houdini. Houdini was fascinating man and a great magician, but what made him famous was his ability to escape from every cage, cell, rope, and handcuffs. It was this later capability that birthed the idea for this work. Houdini became friends with police officer, investigators and jailors across the world and from those contacts, he compiled a book of true stories along with the correct way to commit crimes. As he wrote in the foreword, this book is not teaching people how to commit crime but to teach the public how to protect themselves.

Those in the “know” still debate whether people should be told how to commit crime. Yes, some good people will learn how to protect themselves, but some bad people will now learn how to commit crimes more effectively. We’ll come back to this debate later, but I think it’s plainly obvious on which side of the debate Houdini fell.

This book covers mail fraud, all-purpose scams, house breaking, safe cracking, and plenty of other nefarious deeds. Many of these schemes still make the rounds today. The name and faces might change but the methods still work.

Houdini spends much time covering the various techniques used to break into homes. Often, crooks will scout out a house and/or neighborhood for a while before they break into a home. In fact, Houdini argued that good criminals only robbed one home a month or so. He also points out that they usually get caught in the end. A major component to avoiding burglary is watchful neighborhood. If neighbors watch for people scouting out a neighborhood, they will protect others and themselves. Simply talking to those who appear out of place can scare away potential crime. Few criminals will return if a neighbor spoke with them for a while. Houdini also argues that homeowners should take simple precautions commonsense precautions: lock the doors and windows, keep valuables in a room other than a bedroom and so on.

Mail fraud you say? Whether it was in 1906 or 2007, mail fraud is the same and quite prolific. Mail fraud lures people with the hope of a free fortune or a fantastic deal. Its mail fraud because the victim nevery meets the crook; everything is handled by mail. Now, mail fraud takes place via e-mail and on the internet. Either way, the rules are straightforward. The crook will contact you and offer you the latest whizbang doodad or deal for a price way below cost. Or maybe you just won a foreign lottery. All you need to do is send the lottery a certified check for $200 for processing fees and they’ll send you $5,000,000. Sounds too good to be true? That’s cause it is.

The subject that interested me the most in this book was begging. In 1906 after traveling around the world, Houdini was convinced that <90% of all beggars were professional beggars or in begging gangs. Whether on the street or via mail, these professional beggars would plead for your hard-earned cash. Now, I have seen too many professional beggars (and known of a few confirmed cases); I don’t trust any beggars. A friend told me that he always gives and figures that God will handle the details. He says that we should give and God will take care of us. I see my position as a bit more frugal and I don’t want to support a slothful person. Oh well, you decide which way you handle it. 🙂

Houdini has a great story about a man visiting Russia who discovered that his coat kept accruing cash while he walked the streets. It’s worth reading the book for that story.

Overall, if crime interests you, then you’ll want to read this book. Despite having been published slightly more than 100 years ago, the principals are still relevant. And if you need a gift for that person who finds crime interesting (from an intellectual point of view), then this might be a great book for a gift.

Buy it here

The audio books is here

The text is here

Tales of Terror and Mystery by Arthur Conan Doyle


Tales of Terror and Mystery

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a variety of material. Most notably, he had the first truly great detective (and consequently the first great arch-villain). (He even wrote the adventure story: The Lost World, being the inspiration for Jurassic Park and a myriad of adaptations.) To my mild surprise, Doyle also dabbled in the genre of horror with stories similar in nature to the master of horror: Edgar Allan Poe. I suspect that this work had a small tribute to the work of Poe, because these stories have stylistic similarities to Poe’s writings.

So what kind of tales will you find in this book? I’ll list the stories and make a comment or two about each one.

Tales of Horror:

  • The Horror of the Heights – This story, placed in the early days of aviation now lacks the punch I assume that it once had. If one believes that villains often reveal the fears of the public (at the time of their publication), then this story presents an intriguing glimpse at the early age of flight. This story takes place at a time before enclosed cockpits….
  • The Leather Funnel – A rather nasty story, this one. This story represented the requisite pass (albeit minor) at the occult and violence. As I enjoy Poe, I am probably not a good judge of just how dark a tale can be, but I squirmed a tad at the pictures.
  • The New Catacomb – Two young men, both professional archaeologists, explore a heretofore-unknown catacomb in Rome. Doyle essentially rewrote one of Poe’s more famous stories in this short thriller. Sorry, I won’t tell you which one as it would spoil the ending.
  • The Case of Lady Sannox – A story of morbid vengeance. Can one understand the desire for this particular revenge? Possibly, but it still makes one shudder at the heart who would dare commit such a crime. Definitely a shiver inducer.
  • The Terror of Blue John Gap – Meh…. Not that exciting. Has about the same fear factor as Bram Stoker’s Lair of the White Worm, but that’s about it. Short and not really frightening. Skipping a story in this book? Make it this one.
  • The Brazilian Cat – Somewhere, I either read this story or one like it. Probably one like it as the story line isn’t all that uncommon. A desperate financially troubled youth makes friends with an uncle who had traveled the world (Brazil in particular). This uncle, from whom the lad wanted money until he inherited his own fortune, had a pet cat. A black Brazilian cat similar to a panther or leopard. A killer cat. It was a dark and stormy night….

Tales of Mystery

  • The Lost Special – One of the better stories in this collection. This mystery reveals the clever mind of Doyle. But, as Doyle wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, I guess the revelation is a moot point. Oh well. Apparently, a special train (high speed) disappeared without a trace between two small towns one afternoon. How could an entire train disappear? It couldn’t leave the tracks and it never arrived. This clever tale will keep you wondering right until the end.
  • The Beetle-Hunter – A young scientist specializing in beetles, answers an advertisement for an adventure of unlimited duration. This story had plenty of potential, but wasn’t really well developed.
  • The Man with the Watches – Another train mystery. An old man and his apparent daughter enter one train car; they are the sole occupants. The next car, the smoking car, has a lone middle-aged man in it. At the next stop, the smoking car is empty and the other car contains the corpse of a young man whose pockets filled with watches. The three occupants have vanished.
  • The Japanned Box – Japanned is a term used to describe a lacquer applied in a Oriental style. A gentleman takes a position as a tutor to two young boys. During his stay, he over hears a woman’s voice coming from the study of the widower’s study. That study contains a Japanned box, which can never be touched on pain of dismissal. Somehow, women enter and leave the study without using the door.
  • The Black Doctor – A foreign doctor, becoming the star of the community, breaks off his engagement and prepares to leave town. Before he can go, the black doctor is found murdered in his office. During the trial of the ex-fiancé’s brother, surprising evidence comes from a rather surprising source.
  • The Jew’s Breastplate – Interesting tale that takes place in a museum. The story revolves around the breastplate of the Jewish high priest and the wonderful jewels in it. The new caretaker discovers that someone had loosened the jewels, but not stolen them. Each night the culprit loosens several more jewels but never takes a single one.

Generally of high quality, you will probably enjoy some of the stories here. Being short stories, they make great reading right before bedtime. Well, OK, except for The Leather Funnel. I think that I might not read that one right before bed.

What short stories do you recommend?

Buy it here
Listen to it here
Read it here

One Third Off by Irvin S. Cobb

One Third Off
Have you ever tried to lose weight? More than a few pounds? It takes more than a special diet as Irvin Cobb discovered. Cobb thought that he was just “big boned” and that his size was genetic. His family always filled out in their thirties….

Cobb recounts the true and humorous story of his attempts to reign in his weight. Cobb wasn’t a lazy glutton. He just had a sedentary lifestyle and a special relationship with his food. He and his food had a special bond he told himself. (The bond was more obvious to everyone else.) Interestingly, Cobb describes the various self-delusions that he went through to convince himself that he wasn’t overweight.

  • The suit didn’t fit anymore cause it was cheap and shrunk.
  • The weight gain was a family trait.
  • He wasn’t fat, just well developed.

But, lest you think that this short work was boring, it was anything but that. Cobb eventually went to several doctors who were apparently quacks. Only a quack would call him obese. Cobb went to the gym and the steam room. He tried running. He tried everything but changing his eating habits.

His mealtimes were sacred.

It wasn’t until an obviously obese friend and he both got on scales together that his self-delusion started to crack. When Cobb realized that he was only a couple of pounds shy of the man he always viewed as obese, reality struck.

Eventually, Cobb owned up to his obesity and decided to solve the problem. He read every book on the subject and found that each generation of doctors and dieticians had a different philosophy. Some said that meat was evil. Other that you should avoid starch. Still others said to eat starch and meat to excess. In the end, they only agreed on one point: boiled spinach was acceptable.

You will empathize with Cobb, well I did anyway. Let’s just be perfectly clear: I have never EVER had to take One Third Off, but I have to be careful. I have also found that Cobb’s solution is correct. The only solution to drop 10lbs or 1/3 your body weight is the same regardless of who you are: eat less, eat healthy and exercise. Gag. None of it is fun, but then life isn’t about having fun.

You can hit the above picture and buy it from Amazon (and support the site) or you can do like me: free audio or free text. 🙂

One Third Off

Dead Men’s Money by J. S. Fletcher

Dead Men’s Money
Dead Men’s Money begins in a manner reminiscent of Stevenson’s Treasure Island. There is a young man, whose father is long dead. A mother who rents a room to a stranger. A stranger with secrets. And a secret trunk. The mysterious stranger becomes ill and needs to send the young man, Hugh Moneylaws, to a secret meeting in the middle of the night.

…a meeting that never occurs on account of the murder of one principal and the death of the other.

Hugh quietly notices a stranger traveling the country streets that night but doesn’t pay much attention. Later when he finds the corpse, who was supposed to be alive and conversing with him, Hugh is propelled into a tangled web of intrigue that crosses three continents and leads to other nefarious murders.

Hugh an apprentice/head clerk to the town solicitor, a Mr. Lindsey, rapidly becomes embroiled in mystery death and intrigue. Mr. Lindsey and Hugh track this strange killing over the next several weeks. On several occasions Hugh comes within a hands breadth of death and once even closer. There’s plenty of intrigue with more than one twist throughout.

The good? The book is engrossing and brings out plenty of morals. The author emphasizes personal discernment, responsibility, importance of justice and a good character and so on. Intriguingly, the father of Hugh’s fiancee, prohibits them from being married for several more years. He wants to see Hugh better established and the lovers accept that judgment. I can’t see THAT being very popular anymore.

Overall, I had no complaints with the story. There were no objectionable elements that should discourage anyone from reading the book. If I had any complaints they would revolve around the writing style or plot structure, and to be honest, nothing stands out as worth mentioning. I wouldn’t say to drop everything to read this story, but you could do much worse. If you need some light reading, then by all means grab this and enjoy.

Audiobook and Text

The Red House Mystery by A. A. Milne

Red House Mystery
Yes. That’s the same Milne of Winnie the Pooh. According to this article at Wikipedia.org, Milne’s four Pooh books completely overshadowed the rest of his writing. He even came close to regretting the Pooh stories as everyone compared the rest of his works to those four books. He was a victim of his own success….

The Red House Mystery is an intriguing mystery published in 1921 and was Milne’s only foray into the genre. One critic accused Milne of having an “intricate and clever but not realistic plot.” And that would be accurate; a very good read, but not one that you can solve as you go along. True, you can get closer than with many other titles, but Milne excludes the reader from two or three critical facts that prevent anyone from solving the crime. ‘Tis a shame. Does anyone know of a mystery writer that grants sufficient detail for the reader to solve along the way?

In this story, Tony Gillingham stumbles onto a murder and without permission proceeds to solve it. Tony was a wealthy chap who refused to simply flit around on his enormous fortune. He decided to see the world, by which he meant to see the world through various English jobs. Whenever he saw a job that took his fancy, he made a deal with the shopkeeper/owner. He would work for one month free. If the boss liked him, he would earn double wages on the second month. If the boss didn’t like him, then he would leave without pay.

He never left without pay. In this manner he experienced much of England and became a true Renaissance man. It was between jobs when he stumbled upon the Red House where his friend Bill was spending several weeks. Having been invited to drop in if he was in the area, Tony did just that. Upon arriving at the house, he discovered that a murder had just taken place. He proceeded to offer his assistance to the household, which had yet to gain entry to the locked office. Over the next two or three days, Tony and Bill discover secret passages, intrigue, and plots within plots.

This story is worth reading, but one warning. There is quite a bit of language in this book. Read it at your own discretion. You can buy an edited reprint from here. The original text is here and librivox.org has provided the audio book.